Posts in the “Waiheke” category...

Slow, Slower & Almost Stopped – Backwards to Waiheke

by Continental Club on April 30, 2009  |  Leave a comment

There’s a bit of an urban myth that pilots, having glided their fly-by-wire Airbii or Boeings in over Manukau City or its harbour, welcome their Crackberry-addicted and laptop-toting passengers ‘to Auckland, where the local time is 1953.’ It would be funny, were it not so true.

The thing is, New Zealand is the one of the World’s cul-de-sacs. No-one, since the dawn of Man, has yet found a plausible reason to be ‘just-passing’ New Zealand. It’s as far as you can go, the end of the line, a terminus country. It’s somewhere that quite a few folks visit, passing on their way in the steady flow of locals on their way out. It’s a country that one or two have escaped to, in search of that utopian ‘better quality of life’, but despite almost 700 years of human presence, has managed to hang on to a population only two thirds the size of London’s.

The South Island (commonly: ‘the one with the sheep and the scenery’) troubles itself with less than half the number of people than call Manchester home.

The North Island (‘the one with the Politicians’) clings on to some semblance of modernity with the capital, Wellington, and the most populous city, Auckland within its shores.

Together, they form 95% of the land area of a country that has been described as ‘beige’ by Billy Connolly and one that has just woken up to the fact that the designations North Island and South Island actually have no legal validity.

The politicians have decided, therefore, to have a contest to decide the official names of the two rocks at the end of the Earth but, apparently, the Kiwis are quite keen on maintaining the status quo. For which read: can’t be bothered to vote. So, instead, I’ll make a suggestion:

North Island: Saga

South Island: Gaga

Job done.

Anyway, if New Zealand has the air of England under Anthony Eden, then the island of Waiheke (Why-Heckie) is more Larkrise to Candleford, if not Flintstones. Traditionally a weekend retreat from the urban frenzy of Auckland (yes, really – they think that Auckland’s a frenzy), Waiheke has only relatively recently come under the control of the municipal authorities.

Never a country to trouble itself unduly with planning rules or building standards, the former lack of regulations of any kind on the island seem to have rendered a goodly part of it a cross between Soweto and Magalluf. It’s not a happy combination.


Thankfully, perhaps, drivers are unlikely to chance upon Waiheke by accident. The peculiarly Kiwi approach to road-signage (minimal, incomplete, non-existent) puts off all but the most determined of navigators who, when they finally spot the only sign which does bear the name ‘Half Moon Bay’ – the port for the island’s car ferry – will see that it points up a hill and away from it’s intended target.

There is, on the face of it, a choice to be made between two ferry companies: Sealink and Waiheke Shipping. The latter lost its maritime licence in mid 2008, only to see it reinstated a few months later without any publically-announced changes to its operation. Run by the Subritzky family, their barge puts one quietly in mind of a Pacific version of Para Handy’s Vital Spark, and the Chief Engineer also makes the teas and coffees.

That sinking feeling washing over us, we booked instead with the Sealink competition, only to find the credit card statement showed ‘Subritzky’ and the two companies’ offices on the slipway at HMB looked suspiciously close for comfort.

There is, in fairness, one quite separate alternative to the slightly suspicious Subritzky combo: Fuller’s, who sail directly from the City (and Devonport on the harbour’s North Shore), but this is a passenger-only service to Matiatia on Waiheke.

The Snot was loaded cautiously aboard and off we set for the island.

The crossing was commendably swift and thankfully supermarine, although our arrival at the vehicular wharf at Kennedy Point came at the expense of the Captain having to suspend his game of cards with the crew.

Again in true New Zealand style, the friendly, chatty arrangements to be met at the wharf by the lady from the accommodation agency through which we’d booked our temporary Castle Continentalclub came to nothing, and we sat in The Snot for half an hour looking like the lost tourists we were.

A call to the office elicited the news that said lady had quit the company the day before, and left no note of our arrival. Thankfully, the sole remaining employee hopped in her jalopy (if it’s a new car in New Zealand, it’s almost undoubtedly Hertz or Avis) and came to rescue us. Not much help for anyone else now trying to call the office, of course…..

She led us to our shed, through the streets of shanties and eventually round the back of the Retravision electrical shop’s service yard. It’s fair to say that, at this point, prayers were being offered up to anyone who would listen, but most specifically to St Regis of Starwood or any of his canonised co-brands.

One of them must have been listening because, despite the inauspicious arrival, CastleContinentalclub itself turned out to be really rather lovely – and our new angel of the accommodation agency, Joanne, absolutely fantastic (though clearly overworked).

In an ideal World, the unlovely building with the red tin roof twixt our house and the sea wouldn’t have been there, and the advertised washing machine would have been a mite more useful had it been connected to water or power, and not left standing in the middle of the garage like a lifeboat adrift at sea.


The angelic Joanne came up with a super solution however: the use of some adjacent lettings with multiple laundries, and also dropped by without delay to complete some items missing from the inventory. She then administered a swift Kiwi kick-up-the-butt to the contract cleaners, who returned to make a better job of cleaning the balcony barbecue than they’d previously managed.

Not exactly the smoothest of arrivals, but all was well in the end.

Our accommodation was located in Waiheke’s largest favela, Oneroa (on-er-oh-a), a higgledy-piggledy collection of tateramas and coffee-shops catering largely to the daily influx of grockles on the Fuller’s passenger ferry. Landed, bussed about and then washed away again at teatime, their blue-rinses are somewhat incongruous as they sip their fair-trade latte, served slowly by a tie-dyed grunger who’d rather be doing anything but feeding the capitalist machine.

Looking carefully down the alleys and passageways which wind between buildings whose very existence owes more to MDF than civil engineering, there are a few decent eateries to be found – the Skinny Sardine and Vino Vino to name but two.

The latter restaurant owes its name to Waiheke’s latest wheeze to draw in the boatloads – the race to cover the most unlikely patches of earth with grapes. Now, it’s to the island’s credit that no-one actually claims that the vines or their output wines are any good. No, they’re just there. Most of the vineyards play host to a restaurant (suggestions that planting a vineyard next to your restaurant is merely a landscaping exercise are entirely unfounded) and these provide additional opportunities for busloads to be parted with the contents of their purses and wallets, or to attract mainlanders for their nuptials.

Cable Bay, for example, is one of the latest additions to the Waiheke ‘Wedding Factory’ scene and, perhaps to help make the young loves feel at home, is built very much in the style of a provincial British primary school of the mid 70s.

Despite being open for a couple of years, it seems not to have occurred to its owners that building a drive might take precedent over a swanky sign, but there again neither have they troubled themselves to plant very many vines, either. Or perhaps the vast and patchy lawn out front is designed to allow uninterrupted views from the classroom/restaurant.


Which would be fair enough, were the view not entirely uninterrupted by anything of note for miles and miles and miles, other than a modern art installation reminiscent of an earthquake-wobbled windmill and, with the essential assistance of military-grade binoculars, Auckland city in the very far distance.


Of course, neither focused winemaker nor restaurateur might be expected to deal with such practical matters, concentrating instead on the delivery of luscious libations and delectable dinners. Cable Bay however, in at least a demonstration of remarkable consistency, declined to bother with decent food or wine either.

Little of which would appear to conspire to make Waiheke a particularly attractive destination for the World traveller. However, you’d be wrong in assuming that because, apart from the early celestial discovery of Joanne and CastleContinentalclub, Waiheke’s charms are more subtle and reward not those who swarm around the jampots, but those who explore a little further.

Actually, the first reward comes just by turning eyes away from the island for a moment. The aforementioned alley-accessed restaurants sit above Oneroa Bay, a sheltered and protected bay of warm, shallow waters ideal for sea-swimming, kayaking and watching the passing boats.

It’s far from paradisical, but it’s lovely nonetheless and, from the terrace of Castle CC or those restaurants, the sunsets over the sparkling Pacific waters are beautiful.

A little away from the main street of Oneroa, you’ll also find The Boatshed. On an island which is severely underserved by accommodation options of quality (or size), The Boatshed stands out as a beacon of stylish and luxurious comfort. Boasting uniquely individual rooms and first-class food, The Boatshed is at the pinnacle of comparable hospitality offerings – not just on the island but, arguably, in the greater Auckland area.

Just one thing though: don’t expect it to be anywhere near the sea. Any part of the hotel being used as a boatshed would require global warming on an epic scale, or a flood of biblical proportions. Located half way up the hillside, its creatively-licensed title is forgiven by its excellence, however.


And its ability to allow its guests to avoid some of the privations involved in reaching Waiheke even extends to arranging helicopter transfers from Auckland Airport – a worthwhile alternative to the car ferry.

Passing Ostend, the central lowland area of the island is home to mangrove swamp and the more commercial and prosaic of island businesses – here you’ll find the main supermarket, for example – before the landscape becomes more rural and the Waiheke Golf Club drapes the foothills. Opposite the Golf Club is one of the island’s more notable businesses – the Shearing Shed barbers. Make your way up the farm track to a converted stable and, assuming that sheep and miniature horses aren’t taking precedent, gentlemen may be relieved of their flowing locks in a slightly Wild West set up.

Next along the road, and continuing Waiheke’s seeming obsession with place names beginning with ‘O’, is Onetangi (On-euh-tang-ee), but the real treat begins with a turning to the right, just before the town is entered.

This turn marks the entrance to the ‘Bottom End’, an area of Waiheke that has gone almost untouched by the hand of restaurant developers, and unseen by the busloads of daytrippers. The initially sealed, then unsealed road makes its way through what can only be described as a pastoral eden of rolling hills clad in emerald green grass and studded with the most handsome of cattle and cloud-like sheep.

 

Every twist in the road is to enter another scene from an Anchor Butter commercial. Through densely-ferned dells and past babbling streams, the road which loops around the Bottom End finally emerges across a tiny bridge and a cattle grid to the stunningly beautiful Man o’War Bay.

Named (like so much else hereabouts) by Captain Cook, it’s a place to spend a long, lazy day with a picnic and a few decent bottles of wine (from somewhere else in New Zealand, obviously).

The more adventurous can take the walking trail up to Stony Batter, but most would prefer to do no more than watch the lapping waters and the anchoring of the odd boat in this sheltered spot.

Which is surely what an island retreat is all about, is it not?

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